Hélio Menezes talks about the teachings and achievements of 2020

Despite the regular and extended difficulties, the curator is proud of the powerful projects he managed to make viable and is preparing for many other achievements in 2021

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Vozes contra o racismo
Voices against racism

Hélio Menezes, from Bahia, is an anthropologist and works as a curator, critic and researcher. Graduated in International Relations and Social Sciences, he is a master and doctoral student in Social Anthropology at the University of São Paulo, and an Affiliated Scholar at BrazilLab, at Princeton University. He is currently curator of Contemporary Art at Centro Cultural São Paulo, participating in an exemplary transformation of the space. This year he was responsible for the collective Voices Against Racism and also for the CCSP individual exhibition project. He also curated the show The discovery of what it means to be Brazilian, at the Mariane Ibrahim Gallery in Chicago. Check out Helio crossed (in the best sense of the word) 2020:

Helio Menezes
Helio Menezes

1.What was your biggest challenge and achievement in 2020?

In this absolutely unusual year, curating the show Voices against racism it was certainly a challenge of hyperbolic proportions. The exhibition required tremendous (and unprecedented) articulation with inspection bodies, negotiations with the City Hall, dialogues with cultural managers, directors of CEUs and other public institutions (transformed into democratic open-air galleries), to take to the streets of São Paulo works by 31 artists, including graffiti, videos, photographs and installations, spread across 40 locations, especially in the ravines. Among selected and commissioned works, mostly by black, indigenous and non-southeastern artists, the show sought to shed light on issues of belonging, identity, affectivities and new imaginations of life in society, in a period marked by illnesses of all kinds. – those of political and aesthetic conservatism even greater than those of the physical body.

A notable achievement in 2020 was undoubtedly the holding of the exhibition The Discovery of what it means to be Brazilian, at Mariane Ibrahim Gallery (Chicago, USA). This exhibition, my first international curatorship experience, brought together works by Aline Motta, Eder Oliveira, Jaime Lauriano, No Martins and Tiago Sant'Anna, proposing a reflection between (mis)understandings of Brazilianness, other fundamentals and new paths of contemporary production in the country, inspired by the famous (slightly) homonymous essay by James Baldwin. Another achievement made by The Discovery was the realization of the 2020 Exhibition of the Centro Cultural São Paulo, which this year reached its 30th edition. The exhibition brings together, simultaneously, individual exhibitions of 14 artists selected by public notice – public, it should be noted -, and 4 other guest artists. For the first time, the CCSP Exhibition was composed of a significant majority of non-white artists and critics with plural geographic and social origins; unequivocal sign of the new times that the winds have been blowing in the contemporary scenario, despite and against the context of divestment and scrapping of the culture in which we live.

Ventura Profana
Profane Venture

2. What, in your opinion, will be the biggest changes in the art world after this atypical year?

The biggest changes came in the expansion, still timid but vigorous, of the voice and performance of curators, thinkers and black, indigenous, non-heir and anti-colonial curators, thinkers and managers in art circles, especially in decision-making positions formerly occupied exclusively by a select white and, to a large extent, foreign elite. Whether face-to-face or online, 2020 was a year in which the protagonism of a new critical and anti-disciplinary generation became unavoidable, bringing renewal and oxygen to an artistic scene that had been notoriously falling into a monochromatic and somewhat decaffeinated monotony.

Edér Oliveira
Work by Edér Oliveira selected for the exhibition “The discovery of what it means to be Brazilian”

3. What hasn't changed…but should?

The centralization in the Southeast of resources and opportunities destined for art and culture, eclipsing initiatives (of the greatest importance and quality, but unfortunately marginalized, when not assimilated under the perverse nickname of exoticism or “local color”), is an inequality that persists in do not change. But you should. And for now.

3. Which image, text or phrase most impressed you this year?

 “I can't breathe”

4.What are your main plans for 2021?

Three major projects await me in 2021, for which I have been planning and investing energy right now: the exhibition Carolina Maria de Jesus: A Brazil for Brazilians (IMS Paulista, Jun-Nov. 2021), which I have the joy of co-curing with the brilliant Raquel Barreto; holding a curatorial residency in France and Germany, promoted by the Goethe Institut; and the publication of my book on the constructions of the concept of Afro-Brazilian art, an expanded and updated review of the research I have been carrying out throughout my master's and doctorate. Aware that after the storm there is always a gale, I feel prepared for the year to come – may Iansã, lady of lightning and storms, guard and guide us.

Tiago Sant’Ana
Work by Tiago Sant'Ana selected for the exhibition “The discovery of what it means to be Brazilian”
Vozes contra o Racismo
Voices Against Racism
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